by Leith Hillard
SMART by name and smart in practice, the Self-Management and Recovery Training program run by EACH Box Hill is a local version of a worldwide evidence-based addiction support program. This opportunity to focus on “life beyond addiction” (the program’s tagline) is now available 100 per cent online, ensuring participants can keep working towards their goals uninterrupted by COVID-19 restrictions.
Meetings concentrate on the present and the future, not the past.
‘One step at a time, we tell them,’ says EACH Gambler’s Help Therapeutic Counsellor Harry Bessas who co-facilitates the online sessions with Alcohol and Other Drug Counselling Clinician Joanna Skewes.
‘This is therapeutic group work that focuses on what’s achievable in the present. We encourage our participants to only consider the past seven days and the next seven days and keep bringing each session back to them identifying just one thing they want to work on.’
The structured format can be understood by what it’s not: it’s not abstinence based; it’s not deep emotional work; and there’s no telling your life story. Instead it’s a clinician-based peer-to-peer program with four focus areas: enhancing and maintaining motivation; coping with urges; problem solving; and lifestyle balance. Some of the tools and techniques taught to help manage troubling behaviours include identifying the pros and cons of the behaviour, and recognising triggers, beliefs and consequences.
Come with a purpose. Leave with a plan.
Participants might be tackling a range of challenges head-on, from gambling, alcohol and drug use, to smoking or behaviour relating to internet use, food and/or shopping that is harmful to themselves or others. Each participant will speak about a current challenge or success for just two to three minutes per meeting before discussion turns to establishing their one immediate goal.
Beginning with cognitive behaviour therapy techniques, the participants learn to help themselves and help each other using an approach known as “mutual aid”.
Participants can contribute to group discussions and cheering each other on helps them firm up their resolve. Someone might have a goal to keep themselves busy; another will work out how they can see their children more. What are the practical next steps?
‘People find it very beneficial to share their measurable achievements and take away tangible goals that they have chosen,’ continues Harry. ‘It’s non-confrontational. It’s motivating. They see change happening around them and they feel it happening within.
‘Some people find groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and Gamblers Anonymous invigorating but for others it’s challenging to manage the emotional impact of sharing stories. SMART Recovery isn’t a replacement for therapy but it can work hand-in-hand with that deeper work.’
While people come into the group through agencies such as Turning Point, others take advantage of the referral pathways out of the group to specialist services such as Gambler’s Help.
The weekly EACH group has been running for more than a year on an informal or drop-in basis and every meeting is free. There’s no doubt some participants miss the physical meetings when everyone sat in a circle, and numbers have slightly declined in the pandemic-related shift to Zoom.
‘Not everyone is open to video,’ says Harry, ‘but overall the interest continues and it’s been a very smooth transition to online.’
To get involved with the SMART Recovery group, email EACH Box Hill reception at firstname.lastname@example.org.